An elections watchdog group is asking Gov. Nathan Deal to keep Dawson County Magistrate Judge Clint Bearden from a Superior Court judgeship in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit.
Bearden is one of three judges on a short list sent to Deal in late November for the fifth Superior Court judgeship covering Hall and Dawson counties. The list includes Bearden, Hall County State Court Judge Larry Baldwin II and Northeastern Judicial Circuit Juvenile Court Chief Judge Lindsay Burton.
The list was generated by the Judicial Nominating Commission, a collection of lawyers and judges from throughout Georgia.
House Bill 138, which was signed by Deal May 1, created a fifth judge position in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit due to the growing caseload.
This month, a group called Voters Organized for Trusted Election Results in Georgia sent a letterto Deal requesting he not appoint Bearden because of the magistrate judge’s involvement in the 2014 arrest of Nydia Tisdale in Dawson County.
Tisdale was arrested after she refused to stop recording a campaign rally at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm attended by a host of Georgia Republicans elected to or running for statewide office, including Deal.
Tisdale’s trial ended this month in Dawson, and she was found not guilty of two of three charges. She was found guilty of misdemeanor obstruction of an officer, but not on more serious charges of felony obstruction and criminal trespass.
Now, VoterGA co-founder Garland Favorito is asking Deal to not appoint Bearden because of his role in the incident with Tisdale. Requests for comment to Deal’s office and Bearden’s office were not immediately returned.
VoterGA was founded to fight a verifiable voting case in Georgia in 2007. The group also won a ballot access case against the state in 2016. Favorito said on Tuesday that Tisdale has covered and recorded meetings of the group in the past.
Favorito, who attended the five-day Tisdale trial, claims Bearden made untrue statements during the course of the trial that were contradicted by evidence, including Bearden’s own emails with Republican organizers of the event at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm.
“Mr. Bearden testified that candidates who attended the Aug. 23, 2014, rally at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm did not want to be video recorded,” Favorito wrote to Deal. “The state was unable to produce a single candidate who objected to being recorded at the rally in which you were present. Mr. Bearden’s testimony was impugned by all five of the statewide Republican candidates who were present for the event and testified that they had no objections.”
Those candidates included former Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens.
During his testimony during the trial, Bearden said it was Hudgens who said he wanted Tisdale to stop filming.
“Mr. Hudgens was upset about someone videotaping him,” Bearden testified, recalling a conversation he, Dawson County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Tony Wooten and others had with Hudgens and his wife as Hudgens prepared to leave for another event. “Mr. Hudgens kept saying he wanted to get the videotape.”
The next day of the trial, Hudgens answered “no” to a question about whether Tisdale’s filming intimidated him or made him want to stop talking.
The comment at the center of the incident was made by Hudgens about Democrat Michelle Nunn, who in 2014 was running against him to be insurance commissioner.
“I have never seen anybody misrepresent their stance as much as Michelle Nunn did,” Hudgens says on the Tisdale video. “I thought I was going to absolutely puke listening to her.”
He is then seen pointing at the camera.
“I don’t know why you’re filming, but yes I said that,” Hudgens appears to tell Tisdale.
Hudgens’ concerns prompted a campaign staffer to go up to Tisdale and ask her to stop filming, Bearden testified. When the staffer returned unsuccessful in getting Tisdale to stop, Bearden said he approached the property owners, Johnny and Kathy Burt.
“(Mr. Burt) wasn’t angry, he was just like, ‘OK, just ask her to stop filming, ask her to turn off her camera … tell her if she turns off her camera she can stay,’” Bearden testified.
Bearden then said he approached Tisdale, identified himself as a representative of the property owners and said they would like her to stop filming. When she refused, Wooten attempted to remove her from the event, prompting the confrontation that led to the charges and trial.
Favorito claims discrepancies in Bearden’s testimony during the trial should keep him from the bench, arguing that Bearden claimed ignorance about organization of the event, but evidence presented during the trial showed he corresponded with the head of the Dawson Republican Party about local public advertising of rally.
“Mr. Bearden’s testimony was impugned by his own Emails with Dawson County Republican Chair, Linda Clary Umberger,” Favorito wrote. “In these Emails they discussed advertisements that were placed in local newspapers to promote the event. Ms. Umberger also testified that she coordinated with him for the public event ads that showed him as the event contact person.”
Favorito claims Bearden’s testimony on the organization of the event was proven false during the trial and that, as a result, he should be barred from a higher court appointment.
“I think as a judge he should have understood that was a problem to begin with,” Favorito said Tuesday. “... You want honest judges that support the First Amendment of the Constitution.”